A SERIOUS HUMAN BEEN?

The days skittled by. I returned to Cochabama by train, with a mission. I had learnt that it was one of the few places to buy the large tubed pan pipes known as "toyo". I had the address of the "Kjarkas School of Folk Music" as being craftsmen of fine instruments. Again I was focussed with a mission.

The afternoon of the day I arrived, I ventured to the extensive market area where I'd gather an idea of instrument prices. I decided to make a recording of market sounds as I walked through the animal and produce hub of selling.

I had hand sewn a small calico bag to encase my walkman. Then I'd rubbed the sparkling new calico around my hotel floor to complete a soiled disguise. I practised turning it on and off, to pause whilst encased, and then set off to the market. I loved the ebb of markets. The endless bombardment of the senses of sight, sound and smell.

The patented calls of the orange sellers, gross smells mixing easily with the sweet aroma of roasted pork; the picture of a small bare-footed girl, tatters all round, carrying two live chickens by their roped legs. The beggars, the hustlers. Spanish language, Aymara and Quechua. "Psssst! Hey Mister ..... what is your name?" I flicked off the pause button as I turned, an opportunist for the live action, and raised my questioning eyebrows to the character in pursuit. He then asked the same question in Italian, I answered in a fictitious resemblance of some Nordic language, you know .... dog becomes "dorgan-dorgan" etc!

He proceeded in English. The big hustle. "White snow, nose candy, very cheap ..... pura, pura! Try it first, then buy. No rip-offs." He was supporting a large family. Maybe I wanted "grass"? Columbian Gold no less. Could I loan him a dollar. What a recording!

I proceeded to record and eventually wandered into the music section of the market. Records were only three dollars at present exchange rates. I returned to my hotel with quite a haul. Records, cassettes, a set of pan-pipes (zampoña), some fruit and an excellent mix of recorded sounds.

Later that afternoon, I took an hour's walk out past the edge of town in search of the Kjarkas School. After several wrong turns I found their small house. I was greeted at the door by a man of strong Indian features, a small stringed instrument strung across his shoulders. He picked it intermittently as we talked. A "charango" he called it, turning it over to display a body made of the shell of a hairy armadillo. I told him of my love of the sound of the "zampoña" and also how I wanted to procure a set of "toyo". Big and small pan-pipes. He suggested that I come back next day.

I had breakfast with a French musician I'd met the night before and then set off for my walk to the Kjarkas house. A small and badly beaten ute was being loaded with speakers and guitar cases. Gonzalo recognised me as I approached, and greeted me with a handshake. He immediately apologised and said that they'd not had time to make anything and that the group was preparing for a concert they'd be giving that night.

It was a world of two faces that these five men lived. Elevated to an almost star-like status in Japan and Europe they continued to pursue their art at its grass roots level. They'd produced a number of records and had made consistent tours overseas. That night, as I sat and listened to their performance I had no doubts as to why they held such levels of esteem. The power and the passion. Simple bamboo flutes and the most basic of pan-pipes. I was sent floating, absolute indoctrination to pursue the pan-pipe. A sound which touched at a special nerve in my body and sent shocks of shivers through my spine. I could never play like them, but I was determined to be able to play a tune or two one day, just for my own pleasure. Maybe to busk, I thought to myself.

I returned again next day, but nothing. And the next day I was assured they would do something. Five days straight I'd walked the five kilometers out and the five kilometers back. At my appearance on the sixth day they knew they were dealing with one very determined human. So, at a point before midday Gonzalo sat down with me. He rumbled through a large pile of tubes lying in a corner of his part indoors, part outdoor workshop. Ornately carved charango bodies adorned the walls. The ruby red eyes inlaid to give the characteristic "diablos" a semblance of life. His tools were simple, but he worked surely. I sanded, he cut, we blew. Five hours later I had a small set of "malta" size pan-pipes. They were beautiful, the sound clear and full. He then taught me my first song on it. It was an original that he and his younger brother had written called "Llorando se Fue" .... Crying he/she went.

It was with great surprise that years later I'd hear that same melody being danced to as a popular hit called "Lambada". It was revealed that someone had stolen their song, turned it into a worldwide hit, and then were promptly sued in the international courts for a smooth five million dollars. How many trillion Bolivian pesos was that, I wondered??